Understanding and Empathy
Understanding is a vital element in the development of a therapeutic relationship in mental health nursing. Both patients () and nurses () value the ability of mental health nurses to convey understanding. Conveying understanding is important as it instils patients with a sense of importance (). Feeling important is significant to the lives of people who live in a society, which often stigmatizes them because of their mental illness (). Notably when the nurse knows and understands the patient, the nurse assists patients to understand themselves (), empowering them to influence their treatment (). Consequently knowing the patient promotes ...view middle of the document...
The in-depth knowledge required to develop this level of understanding requires time and skill to understand ().
Importantly, the patient’s unique personal experience is worthy of the deepest respect. The psychiatric/mental health nurse is required to treat the patient’s personal experiences as a gift brought to the relationship (). The expression of thoughts and feelings should be encouraged without blaming, judging or belittling (). As found by Shattell et al. (), the way the psychiatric/mental health nurse responds when the patient divulges “terrible” information can either promote or impede the relationship. When psychiatric/mental health nurses in their study had developed skills to be able to respond without shock or revulsion, the patient felt a sense of understanding in addition to feeling normalized as a human being (). Non-judgemental attitudes are critical to this process ().
Essentially by relating to the patient as a person, the psychiatric/mental health nurse enables the patient to feel understood (). To encourage this type of understanding the psychiatric/mental health nurse must interact foremost as a human being (), talking to the patient as a neighbour or friend rather than a counsellor or expert (). In addition the sharing of common experiences, such as similar backgrounds and mutual adversities has also been found to help the patient to connect with the psychiatric/mental health nurse and feel understood ().
In psychiatric/mental health nursing, certain situational expectations and communication barriers make understanding an involved process. For instance Hem and Heggen () were astonished by the way the psychiatric/mental health nurse in their study maintained empathy for the patient. When subjected to fierce personal attacks, the psychiatric/mental health nurse retained the desire and ability to understand the patient. Involvedness is also required when patients expect nursing staff to understand the patient even when they are unable to express their needs verbally (). Furthermore Johansson and Eklund () found that understanding was an involved process for “younger” psychiatric/mental health nurses who had to defeat barriers to communicate with patients who were uncomfortable disclosing their problems with “younger staff”. Seemingly, in different situations, individuals will require different levels of involvedness and skill to practice understanding.
Individualized care is mediated through knowing the patient (). To obtain this knowledge the psychiatric/mental health nurse must see patients as individual people with lives beyond their mental illness. Seeing people as individuals with lives beyond their mental illness is imperative to make patients feel valued () and respected (). Muller and Poggenpoel () investigated patient experiences when interacting with psychiatric/mental health nurses and these researchers concluded that...